Project Leader vs Project Manager: Top Differences


Project Lead vs Project Manager— a debate as old as the roles themselves. If you think that a Project Manager and a Project Leader are the same people with similar functions, you are mistaken. The truth is far from it. The one similarity is that both the Project Manager and the Project Lead play a crucial role in successfully completing a project. 

Instead of debating on Project Manager vs Project Leader, distinguishing and understanding each role’s unique characteristics is essential for better project development and management. You can consider enrolling for upGrad’s PG Certificate in Product Management from Duke to master product management skills and develop a product mindset. 

Let us explore the Project Leader vs Project Manager responsibilities and differences. 

Who Is a Project Leader? 

A Project Leader is responsible for managing a group of people who are associated with and working on a project. The leader allocates responsibilities and duties to the team members. A Project Lead also has to ensure that all rules and regulations are abided by individuals working on the project. 

The prominent roles of a Project Leader include setting project objectives, creating suitable project plans and assigning and scheduling roles and tasks to team members. The Project Lead supports the team in the project lifecycle and provides mentorship and expert guidance. A Project Leader, thus, is the primary driver of the project. 

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Who Is a Project Manager? 

A Project Manager is responsible for arranging, planning and implementing operations while strictly considering budgets and deadlines. The manager also handles goal orientation, leadership roles, task completion, and, most importantly, interaction with various stakeholders. 

A Project Manager is responsible for a project’s success or failure. Along with organisational leadership management, a Project Manager helps with risk mitigation. The manager updates the project’s progress to the client or stakeholder and provides detailed information about possible obstacles that may arise. They are also responsible for resolving and managing issues when they arise. 

Finally, before project submission, the Project Manager provides quality assurance tests on the product. 

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Key Differences Between a Project Leader and a Project Manager 

Interestingly, the terms Project Manager and Project Leader are used interchangeably in many business organisations. However, the role of a Project Leader is more vital than a Project Manager. With greater control over a project, a leader can explore unique management styles for project management. 

There are crucial but subtle differences in determining Project Manager vs Project Leader responsibilities and functions. Let us look at the various aspects and the areas of differences in both job roles.

  • Role in decision making 

Decision-making is crucial to any project development and management, irrespective of the project’s nature. Taking the right decision at the right time is critical for a project’s success. Decision-making is among the essential Project Lead responsibilities

Project Leaders have to be quick decision-makers. Project Leads must have quick thinking skills to make decisions by observing trends and patterns. Most Project Leads have a decision-making checklist for all critical viewpoints and relevant risks. 

Once the decision is taken, a Project Leader must provide transparent and clear information to the team members for complete clarity. It is one quality valued by employees. 

  • Responsibilities and scope 

Project Lead roles and responsibilities are quite different from that of a Project Manager. As a result, their scope of work too is different. Let’s examine the responsibilities and scopes of a Project Manager and Project Lead. 

  • Scopes and responsibilities of a Project Manager

The scope of work of a Project Manager is extensive. As a result, there are many responsibilities as well. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Defining the scope, goals and deliverables of the project
  2. In case of an issue, resolving and managing the same
  3. Making sure that all members have a role in the project along with management of documentation, staff and budget 
  4. Identification of potential risks and making alternative plans for the project accordingly
  5. Updating the progress of the project along with mentioning the obstacles that might come
  6. Documenting and reporting progress for communication with key stakeholders and the team
  7. Carrying out quality assurance tests once the product is ready
  • Scopes and responsibilities of a Project Leader

Leadership in project management is crucial for the success of the project. This is precisely what a Project Leader does. Some of the critical roles and responsibilities of this professional include:

  1. Ensuring that the team remains highly focused on the project 
  2. Understanding the objective of the project and working towards reaching the goal taking the entire team together
  3. Attending meetings and brainstorming sessions with Project Managers, stakeholders, clients and other leaders involved in the project
  4. Developing progress reports for every stage of the project
  5. Testing the product prototypes

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  • Communication skills and stakeholder management 

A Project Manager must have highly effective communication skills. This is important as communication plays a vital role in the role of a Project Manager. The manager communicates and coordinates with team members and team leaders about various project updates. 

Project Managers hold meetings on various aspects of the project with different teams involved. Client and project evaluation meetings need special mention as these require excellent communication skills. Good communication skills help the Project Manager effectively convey the required message and information to team members. 

Stakeholder management is another area in which Project Managers excel. These professionals manage the stakeholders’ demands, needs and priorities. It offers the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life.

Additionally, a Project Manager’s job is to identify and manage the various risks associated with the project. Stakeholders also receive the project’s status report from the Project Manager. 

  • Leadership style and team management 

Project Leaders and Managers should have unique and distinct leadership styles and team management skills. All Project Manager and Project Leader job descriptions clearly mention this quality as a requirement for the roles. 

Having good team management skills is a prerequisite for a Project Leader. Developing efficient team management skills is essential to build strong teams and lead projects to success. 

Project Leaders must choose suitable employees based on the project’s requirements to form teams. They are the best people to decide which members will successfully add value to the project. Every member of the team has some special skills. The Project Lead knows how to best leverage these skills in the project in the best manner. 

On the other hand, Project Managers must have strong leadership qualities for leading and managing a team for successful project completion. Because of leadership abilities, Project Managers can anticipate and adapt to changes in any project’s schedule, scope or budget. 

It is this skill which establishes transparent and clear communication with stakeholders. A Project Manager must be flexible, making necessary amendments and aligning the project goals with business strategy when required. 

  • Technical knowledge and expertise 

This is one aspect where Project Managers are ahead of Project Leaders. Project Managers often contribute to various technical aspects of a project. They are proficient at creating project documents, including technical details and specifications, to conduct various activities. 

To develop a project, a Project Manager might need to use various technical tools, programming languages, codes, and other technical aspects. The manager should also be adept in operating different kinds of project management software for managing team members and organising project activities seamlessly.  

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The two job roles have similarities and subtle differences distinguishing the two designations. However, the main objective of both professionals is to complete a project by maintaining all the necessary guidelines and finishing it within the stipulated budget. 

Whether you choose to be a Project Manager or a Project Lead, a professional course in the subject will help you easily handle both roles. upGrad offers a PG Certificate in Product Management from Duke Corporate Education

The course is ideal for Project Managers, Project Leads, marketing professionals, entrepreneurs and others interested in the product management domain. Along with product knowledge, the course helps develop skills like structured thinking, stakeholder management, communication, problem-solving, team collaboration, and leadership. 

Visit upGrad for more details.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between a Project Leader and a Project Manager?

While Project Leads devise plans, Project Managers solve various issues in a project. As the leads are strategists, they generate ideas and plans for stimulating people to achieve project goals and objectives. Project Managers create outlines for the work to be done.

Is the designation of Project Leader higher than that of Project Manager?

A Project Lead is conferred the responsibility of a project or a few projects. A Project Manager oversees all the projects under different Project Leads. Therefore, the designation of a Project Manager is higher than that of a Project Leader.

What are the stages involved in project management?

Project management involves five crucial stages. They are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control and closure.

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